Following England’s recent victory at the Oval to reclaim Ashes glory, reflections have been made far and wide on the scale of achievement accomplished.
Amidst all the celebratory guff, Martin Johnson’s salient points in the Sunday Times last weekend rang particularly true to me.
His piece mainly focused on the commendable decision not to repeat 2005’s ‘bacchanalian bender’ (to use his glorious phrase) in light of the relative triumph this time around. In Johnno’s words, it must be remembered that we are celebrating within the context of one average team beating another average team, and not the toppling of a cricketing giant, ending nearly two decades of humiliation.
But his reasoned argument touched on the subject of a fairly lively debate I found myself in during a car journey back from the Cotswolds the previous weekend. Why exactly is it that England cricket fans – the media and civilians alike – seem so ready to forget the 2006-7 debacle that was in fact the previous Ashes series?
Said car-debate was triggered by some frustration with Sky Sports who, throughout this latest series, chose to dominate their match-break inserts with highlights from 2005. Sky, seeming to choose patriotic victory over recency, barely acknowledged what little encouragement might have been drawn from the albeit few inspiring individual performances in the previous series. Instead preferring to instill – or rather reiterate – the blind English belief of, ‘well, we did it four years ago so we can do it again.’
I found myself arguing that this was a symptom of our English optimism preferring to gain strength from previous victories, in order to support our current campaign, rather than dwelling on lessons learnt from past failures. The counter was that while ‘optimism’ might be admirable and reflections on previous success understandable, this should not be at the cost of total denial that an intermittent (disastrous) series ever even happened.
As Johnno himself slipped in one point:
‘…many half expected England to win and retaining the Ashes did not come as a total surprise’.
And what’s wrong with that?
Err, hang on a second - England were never in a position to ‘retain’ the Ashes this summer… seeing as we lost them two and a half years ago. Remember that?
Johnno did at least acknowledge this oversight in the same breath; his point being made that the England cricket fan-base has become so accustomed to blanking that mortifying season from our collective psyche that we barely notice we’re doing it.
He went on to offer a brief account of 2006-7 and the errors inherent therein – so astutely that I felt it worth repeating here. I’m not saying this should excuse our national denial of that series’ existence or that it explains Sky’s seemingly delusional exclusion of those highlights from this summer’s coverage – nor does it solely account for our truly shocking performance that winter. But it does touch upon some key lessons that (please God) the ECB will learn from before packing the boys off for the 2010-11 tour – when we really will be aiming to retain that little urn.
‘…but 2006-7 doesn’t count in that the boys went to Australia on holiday rather than to play cricket.
‘‘They didn’t actually start by sitting around the airport departure lounge wearing shell suits, drinking larger at 9am and checking in at the EasyJet counter, though everything thereafter reminded you of a package holiday booked online at lastminute.com.
‘‘There has never been any adequate explanation for a touring party expanding to 95 people for the flight from Syndey to Perth, a population explosion unmatched outside any colony of rabbits, and there were so many pushchairs in the hold it’s a miracle the plane managed to get off the ground.
‘So…it is also incumbent on the powers-that-be to make sure that this time England’s defence of the urn is treated more like a serious sporting mission than a family outing to Mablethorpe.’
But to end on a positive note - one final counter to all those antipodeans’ protestations that Oz were the better team on paper and thus were the real victors:
‘Let’s hear no more about who, statistically, were the better team. When you’ve got 35 balls to dismiss Monty, and can’t do it, you don’t deserve to win.’